Andrew Blejwas fell in love with Mobile as he passed under a tree-lined Government Street while participating in the Azalea Trail run in 2006.
“I saw the oaks overhead and just thought this place is magical,” he said. “I wondered, ‘What is this place and why are the sidewalks all messed up?’ It’s because you love your trees.”
Now, some 15 years later, Blejwas is working to bring back a tree trail that was started four decades ago and only remains in rusted metal signs and maps that are almost impossible to read.
Blejwas is currently collecting submissions in an effort to recreate the Mobile Tree Trail.
“It’s almost like a ghost,” Blejwas said of the remnants of the former trail. “Let’s bring it back. I feel it’s a way to celebrate our history.”
Blejwas has already mapped the old trail and made some interesting discoveries, such as its inclusion of trees that shouldn’t be a part of the new trail. For example, some invasive species like the tallowtree or popcorn tree. Birds eat the popcorn-like growths on the tree and then are unable to migrate, Blejwas said.
“It has a detrimental impact on birds,” he said of the tallowtree. “They look cool, but are not the best for Mobile to celebrate.”
The trail from decades ago also included several trees popular enough today that they have their own names, like the Duffy oak and the Boyington oak.
“The old trail had about 40 trees,” Blejwas said. “Some were arbitrary.”
The new trail, which is still seeking submissions from the public through mobiletreetrail.com, will be unveiled on Arbor Day, which is slated for Friday, April 30. Submissions will be accepted through the end of May, according to the trail’s website.
As part of the site, Blejwas has created a new map with some of the roughly 40 original trees on it. The old map, he said, was “completely illegible.” Some of the original trees don’t exist anymore.
“I made new maps and added new trees and tried to modernize this thing,” he said.
Most of the trees on the trail are in downtown and Midtown, with the exception of a longleaf pine forest near the Mobile Botanical Gardens out west.
“Most of the trail is in the downtown and Midtown area,” he said. “I’m open to new ideas.”
While the trail is not currently seeking to raise monetary funds at this time, Blejwas said fundraising efforts could be possible down the road. Right now, he’s going through ideas to expand the trail.
Mobile Tree Commission Chairman Jesse McDaniel said the City Council-appointed board is excited to support Blejwas in bringing the new trail to fruition.
“This ties into the mission of the Mobile Tree Commission,” McDaniel said. “It’s educational in nature and it promotes trees.”
In ties with the commission in another way, McDaniel said the board will be spending $8,000 to clean up the Duffy oak on Caroline Avenue. The effort will help make the famous oak a “centerpiece of the tree trail,” he said.
“It’s a huge tree,” McDaniel said. “It’s a beautiful tree. It has been neglected for far too long.”
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